Stepchange call for Reform of Debt Arrangement Scheme

Stepchange call for Reform of Debt Arrangement Scheme

UK debt charity Stepchange has called for the Scottish Government to reform and extend the Debt Arrangement Scheme to make it more available to hard pressed Scottish families.

Following on from my report into the Debt Arrangement Scheme last week, a Stepchange spokesperson speaking in The Herald said:

 “Expanding the DAS would give people time to get back on their feet without the worry of their debts spiralling out of control. By extending DAS, the Scottish Government would give people the best chance of getting themselves back into a position where they can start making payments on their debts.”

However, as I showed in my report, last year Stepchange only set up 424 debt payment programmes under the Debt Arrangement Scheme in 2015/16, down from the 632 they set up in 2014/15.

The Debt Arrangement Scheme has seen a substantial reduction in the number of cases proposed and approved since April 2015 after the Scottish Government introduced new rules that calculated how much people had to pay towards their debts in the Scheme.

In the first year after the rules were introduced, 2015/16, the number of cases reduced by 51%, and only increased in 2016/17 by 9%, meaning the numbers are still down by 46% from the 2014/15 figures.

In my report I called for the Scheme to be extended and reformed by:

  • reforming how the Common Financial Tool is applied to debtors entering into a Debt Payment Programme;
  • removing the requirement all debts had to be included, to allow priority debts like mortgage and rent arrears to be dealt with differently; and
  • by allowing more firms to become payment distributors as part of the Scheme
DAS: is it broken?

DAS: is it broken?

A new report (see here) produced by myself shows that the Scottish Government’s flagship personal debt remedy, the Debt Arrangement Scheme, is in trouble, with the numbers accessing it having fallen by over 50% in the last two years.

The report follows on from a recent high profile, public awareness campaign that was launched by the Scottish Government to raise awareness of the Scheme.

It reveals that the number of consumers accessing the Scheme through private sector firms have fallen by 64%; whilst those accessing it through free providers, like Citizen Advice Bureaux have fallen by 38%.

It lays the blame for the decline, not on a lack of awareness, but on changes that were introduced by the Debt Arrangement Scheme (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2014, which introduced a new way of calculating how much people have to pay each month towards their debts. It meant debtors entering the Scheme had to pay as much as they would if they entered a personal insolvency remedy like bankruptcy or a protected trust deed.

Writing in the introduction, I state:

When the Debt Arrangement Scheme was introduced in 2004, it heralded “… a change in how Scots Law dealt with debt: no longer the land of poinding and warrant sales, but a country that took an enlightened and progressive view of how to help struggling consumers manage their debts, whilst still being able to maintain a reasonable standard of living.

“To now witness the numbers of consumers accessing it falling by 50% is disappointing. Particularly as all the evidence suggests with increasing levels of unmanageable debt, the need for it is as great as before.”

“The reasons for the reduction are complex, but speaking simply when emphasis moved away from creating sustainable repayment plans and onto plans that would recover money quicker for creditors, the benefits of the Scheme were eroded for many consumers.”

“What underpinned that policy change was a belief that consumers were getting their debt management too cheap. The truth is that despite the lip service often paid to understanding the reasons for debt and the causes of debt, there remains deeply engrained in the Scottish political psyche a deep suspicion that many debtors are not “can’t pays”, but “won’t pays”.

I call in the report for the Scottish Government to make a number of changes to the Debt Arrangement Scheme, amongst others to:

  • Introduce a different financial tool for the Debt Arrangement Scheme than that used in personal insolvency; and
  • To end the current practice of tendering out the role of payment distributor and to allow other providers to enter the market, allowing for more competition and take up of the Scheme.

This report has been written with the view the Debt Arrangement Scheme remains an excellent solution for many consumers, but is currently at risk of withering and going into irreversible decline.  It is hoped that decline can be arrested and reversed, but argues some key changes will be necessary.

It was produced using data provided by the Accountant in Bankruptcy after a freedom of information request was submitted. That data can be accessed here.